Stormont Estate Allotments

 

Background

The Stormont Estate Workplace Allotments were launched in May 2012 by Sammy Wilson MP MLA for Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) staff based within the Stormont Estate, the base for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The project was developed as a pilot project, and the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, in order to provide:

  • A facility for the participation in a healthy recreational activity which is easily accessible from the workplace and which contributes to the overall health and wellbeing of staff
  • Staff working on the Stormont Estate with a facility to produce their own local, low cost, fresh food
  • Opportunities for members of the Stormont Workplace Allotment scheme to learn new skills, develop existing skills and to share learning with others
  • A shared space where people can mix and socialise.

The area in question was a nursery plot for plants to be used in the Estate so the infrastructure was in place. A small amount of work was required to divide the plots with money diverted from the estate maintenance budget to cover.

An expression of interest email went out to all civil service staff on the estate and more than 100 applications were received for 25 plots. Successful applicants were drawn from a hat.

 

Activities

Employees on the estate tend their plots on their lunch breaks, after work and at weekends. They have a container for tools, but hope to get a shed at some stage in the future. To date there have been a number of community work days to build compost bins, improve fencing and a communal seed order was organised this spring.

The group of allotmenteers have begun to form as a group, and seem to be getting on with each other and developing relationships. People are keen to improve the site and co-operate on administration like seed orders.

The only ongoing problem is that a few plots have been neglected or underused. The plots are free and it is therefore particularly disappointing when they are being used to their full potential.

 

Who benefits?

The allotmenteers benefit from having access to green space and an alternative activity close to the workplace. They also gain the experience of learning to grow vegetables, and of course will hopefully get fresh veg to take home.

There is evidence that contact with green spaces and allotments improve people’s experience in their working lives. Evidence also links green spaces with increased workplace productivity.

The Civil Service Occupational Health Service are carrying out six-monthly health and wellbeing surveys to monitor the perceived effect of the allotments on users. There will also be a survey of allotmenteers regarding the social side of the allotments.

 

Lessons Learned

This project would differ from most others but the one thing it would have in common is people coming to allotments for the first time. Raising the awareness of the time and ‘hard work’ it takes to get an allotment into shape would be the best advice. Then people cannot say they didn’t realise.

 

What will happen in the future?

There is a waiting list for plots, and there may be scope for expanding the project, and providing larger plots. At the minute interest and involvement seems healthy, and as running costs are relatively low, it seems that the project will continue. Some facilitative input from FCFCG, as well as the continued support of the estates team will be vital on an ongoing basis.

In its capacity as a pilot project the Stormont Allotments have certainly sparked interest from other employers and groups who would now like to explore the idea for their own allotments, but as yet no study visits have taken place.

 

Who has been involved?

The initiative is a partnership between civil servants working on the estate, DFP Estates Management Unit and the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens. There was also an advisory board comprising the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, the Occupational Health Service and Corporate HR.

The project is currently managed by DFP Estate Management Unit as the landlords of the ground. While DFP will always have a role, it is hoped that the allotmenteers will take more control of day to day issues by means of an elected committee.

The project is currently overseen by the Stormont Estates team, who manage maintenance and plotholder lists. FCFCG contribute the facilitation of regular meetings and trainings, with an aim to having some level of self-management in the future.